PARIS – Outrage has grown in France this week after a prominent French far-leftist defended a lawmaker who admitted to slapping his wife, adding fuel to arguments that leftists have learned or ignore cases where prominent men in their ranks have been accused of harming or harassing women.
The legislator, Adrien Quatennens, 32, a rising star at La France Insoumise, or France Unbowed, said in a statement on Sunday that he slapped his wife, Céline Quatennens, during an argument a year ago, “in the face of extreme tension and mutual animosity.”
Mr. Quatennens apologized and said he would step down from his role as top coordinator of France Unbowed, the dominant force in the coalition of opposition left-wing parties in the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament.
But Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who served as France Unbowed’s presidential candidate in this year’s election and retains considerable influence over the party, expressed support for Mr. Quatennens and at least initially , had little sympathy for Ms. Quatennens – adding to the allegations that Mr. Mélenchon has absolutely no interest in the feminist activities his party says it stands for.
Parties across France have faced growing buzz about sexist and sexually violent behavior by politicians. One of President Emmanuel Macron’s ministers left his cabinet in July after he was accused of rape and a prominent Green Party politician was suspended on Wednesday night as chairman among his party’s lawmakers in Congress after charges against him surfaced this week.
“It shows we still have a long way to go to have real feminist parties,” said Fiona Texeire, founder of the Observatory on Sexual Violence and Sexuality in Politics. Referring specifically to France Unbowed, she added, “They claimed to have updated this in their campaign, but then they showed the exact opposite.”
In the newspaper Libération, more than 500 left-wing and feminist activists wrote in an open letter on Tuesday that “when a political group has a feminist agenda, we are right to expect them to stop protecting protect abusers,” and they called on Mr. Quatennens resigns from Parliament. On Wednesday, the main front page title of the newspaper known as “Le Grand Malaise” in French politics.
Mr Quatennens’ statement on Sunday came after French media reported last week that his wife had filed a report of domestic violence with the police. In his statement, Mr Quatennens recounted two other physical changes in recent months after Ms Quatennens told him she wanted a divorce: one where he grabbed her wrist and another where she injured her elbow. hand when trying to retrieve the cell phone he took away. she.
His announcement reveals growing rifts within the French left, especially within France Unbowed, a movement that has made feminism the cornerstone of its platform but has struggled to handle accusations. forced sexism or sexist violence against its members – leading to accusations of double standards.
Some feminists were particularly agitated by Mr. Mélenchon, a fiery politician and three-time failed presidential candidate. He expressed “trust” and “affection” in Mr. Quatennens in a post on Twitter and said that “police cruelty, media and social media fascination” interfered with the divorce.
A brilliant orator, Mr Quatennens is one of his party’s most recognizable faces – a disciplined politician who followed the lines of Mr. explicit inheritance.
“Adrien decided to shoulder it all on her own,” Mr. Mélenchon said in his post. “I salute his dignity and courage.”
Hours later, after a flurry of online criticism that his messages expressed support for the perpetrator of domestic violence but not for the victim, he tweeted: “Céline and Adrien are both my friends. My affection for him does not mean that I am indifferent to Céline, “adding that a slap is” unacceptable under any circumstances. “
Critics are not shaken. “It seems like the closer you are to the party leadership, the more untouchable you are,” Ms. Texeire said.
Raphaëlle Rémy-Leleu, a Greens city councilor in Paris and a feminist activist who speaks openly about surviving a near-fatal attack by an ex-boyfriend, said the Mr. Quatennens acknowledges domestic violence and the political response to it has been minimal. changed in France when it came to gender-based violence.
Rémy-Leleu said, instead of indignant, he quickly accepted the repentance and described Mr Quatennens as a sad, resentful man who attacked his wife because she left him.
“It’s a classic masculine way of framing gender-based violence,” she said, adding that “the public voice of the victim has disappeared”.
“He was saying, ‘I understand what I did to prevent me from being the political leader in my party.’ But he doesn’t think that stops him from being a leader of the nation,” added Ms Rémy-Leleu. “This is crazy.”
France Unbowed tried to shift focus on Sunday with its own statement, which emphasized the party’s “unwavering commitment to the fight against violence against women”. But Mr Quatennens’ case is the third time in less than a year the party has come under intense criticism for its handling of allegations against male politicians.
In May, Taha Bouhafs, a journalist running for Congress with party support, dropped out of the race after a former partner accused him of sexual assault. France Unbowed handled the case discreetly, initially confusing the reason for his departure. The accusations against him are still unclear.
In July, Éric Coquerel, a France Unbowed lawmaker who chairs the finance committee, was charged with inappropriate sexual conduct. Prosecutors have opened an investigation, but Mr Coquerel, who has denied any wrongdoing, has won the support of Mr. Mélenchon and remains in office.
Anger was evident on Tuesday at a news conference organized by France Unbowed lawmakers – many of them women, outspoken feminists but also close allies. close to Mr. Melenchon.
“We are trying to come up with mechanisms; it’s not perfect,” said Clementine Autain, a France Unbowed lawmaker.
France Unbowed is not the only party on the left to contend with such accusations. A member of the Greens party, Sandrine Rousseau, accused her party leader of mistreating a former partner, allegations that were reported over the summer in Le Figaro newspaper but went largely unnoticed.
When Miss Rousseau was asked about the allegations on Monday, France 5 TVshe said she had met the leader’s former partner – Julien Bayou, the party’s national secretary – and that he appeared to have acted in a way that could “disrupt women’s mental health.”
Ms Rousseau said her former partner was “very depressed” and had contemplated suicide, but she did not elaborate. Mr Bayou denied any wrongdoing in July and suggested his accuser was motivated by revenge after a difficult breakup. The party has opened an investigation into the allegations, and announced on Tuesday evening that Mr. Bayou had been temporarily suspended as chairman among the party’s lawmakers in the National Assembly.
In his statement, Mr Quatennens said there was no excuse for his behaviour, which included sending “too many messages” to his wife to convince her not to divorce him. But he also insists that the physical changes to Miss Quatennens do not accurately reflect their 13-year relationship.
“I hate violence in general, and especially against women,” he said.
Mr. Quatennens did not respond to a request for comment.
One of the strongest reactions came from France Unbowed herself.
Pascale Martin, a sociologist elected this year as one of the party’s legislators, said in a scathing statement on Monday that the reaction of Mr Mélenchon and others expressing support for Mr Quatennens was “all the more unacceptable that we are part of a political movement that has waged the fight against sexism”. and sexual violence is at the heart of our platform.”
Ms. Martin added: “I will always stand with victims of violence and never on the side of abusers.”